Sunday Sermon for February 20, 2022, the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: 1 Sam 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23; 1 Cor 15:45-49; Lk 6:27-38
In the second reading, St. Paul contrasts the first Adam, who was created by God in the Garden of Eden, with the second Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ. Both are first, but in different ways. For instance, we can say Adam is the beginning of the human race, but Jesus is the beginning of the redeemed, or even re-created, human race. Even easier, Adam is the beginning, Jesus is the new beginning.
St. Paul takes things deeper and points out that the first Adam is natural and from the earth. The second Adam is spiritual and from Heaven. St. Paul follows this with the point that what is natural came first, then what is spiritual. Obviously, Jesus is God and has existed as the Second Person of the Trinity from all eternity, so in that way the spiritual is first. However, the point St. Paul is making has to do with the physical and historical presence on earth. In this way, Adam came first and Jesus came later.
St. Paul also makes the point that each of us bears the image of the man of earth because we are descended from him and we bear his human nature. Being baptized, we now bear the image of the man from Heaven. One could argue that we are made in the image and likeness of God, so we already bore the image of the One from Heaven. I think St. Paul is alluding to our rebirth in baptism whereby we were incorporated into Christ and, therefore, we have been made sharers in His divine nature.
So, in us, what is natural came first, then what is spiritual followed. This is true in our conception wherein the physical elements provided by our parents existed separately before being united at the first instant of our existence. Our soul was created by God at that very instant, but the natural, physical material was present prior to the spiritual.
The same can be said regarding our temperaments and our virtues. While we can certainly grow in virtue through hard work and discipline, we also grow through prayer and the development of the spiritual life. But before there is any virtue, we have our natural inclinations and desires. What is natural comes first and needs no help; what is spiritual requires effort and comes only after we have been tested.
In the Gospel, our Lord teaches us that we must love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who mistreat us. Needless to say, none of these things normally comes naturally to us. Jesus goes on to say we are not to judge or condemn others, and we must forgive. So unnatural are these things to us that the spiritual writers tell us that our desire to judge others will be the last thing to go before we reach perfection.
We can clearly see the difference in the lived-out reality of these two opposites in the first reading. We hear about David and Abishai, one of David’s soldiers, sneaking into the Israelite camp. (King Saul was hunting for David and wanted to kill him.) Abishai wanted to kill Saul but David would not allow anyone to touch the Lord’s anointed. Saul was judging and condemning David; he refused to forgive whatever he thought David had done. David, on the other hand, refused to judge or condemn Saul; rather, he is forgiving and acts in charity toward his avowed enemy.
In this story, we see two people operating on the natural level, but David operated on a spiritual level. Over the years, David had learned to trust the Lord, he spent many hours in prayer and reflection, and he was able to conform himself more and more to the will of God. The Scriptures do not shy away from giving us the gory details of David’s struggles, so we are not trying to imply that David had become a great master of the spiritual life. No, like us, David floundered and, many times, he completely failed. This brought him back to prayer where he could repent and begin again to develop the virtues.
This is the pattern we must follow as well, but we have a great advantage because we have the Lord Who gives us not only the grace to progress in the spiritual life, but He also teaches us how to live the virtues by the example of His life. What is natural is in each of us, what is spiritual needs to be developed in us if we want to grow in holiness. If David could do this and, if St. Paul could do this, it should be evident that any of us, with the help of God, can be truly spiritual, we can be Saints!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.